While more than 6,131 service members reported sexual assaults last year, only 317 of the accused were court-martialed and sentenced to time behind bars, according to the Department of Defense’s Annual Military Assault Report.
The numbers are calling into question the military justice system when it comes to prosecuting sexual assaults.
Twenty-four percent of the reported assaults were considered "restricted reports," which means the service member wanted counseling but would not identify the attacker. Other cases were dismissed because of insufficient evidence, the statute of limitations had expired, or the command determined the allegations unfounded, the report found.
Out of more than 2,000 charges against accused service members, 25 percent were downgraded to non-sexual assault-related offenses.
Verna Griffin-Tabor, the executive director of the Center for Community Solutions, called the findings troubling.
“That is really brutal for a survivor because the perpetrators have never been held to taking responsibility, and so they plead out for a lower sentence, a lower conviction, and so sexual assault doesn't follow them,” she said. Griffin-Tabor’s organization advocates for sexual assault survivors.
She said military tribunals do not have the same confidentiality policies as the criminal court system, and the closed system appears to support careers of service members over the rights of alleged victims, she alleged.
Part of the concern is that incidents involving a sex offender are typically not isolated.
“It’s estimated that for folks committing sexual assault, there is usually six victims,” said Griffin-Tabor.
For that reason, many survivors decide to move forward to hold suspects responsible – to keep others from becoming victims of sexual assault.